may-18.jpgDirector Frank Capra was born in Italy on this day in 1897. By the age of six he was on a boat across the ocean to America, where he would soon find himself selling newspapers and waiting tables to put himself (one of seven Capra children) through college at CalTech. After graduating, Capra enlisted in the U.S. Army–to which he would later return as director of World War II propaganda films. Unsure of his aspirations, an advertisement for a new film studio caught his eye and he pitched and filmed his first short movie, Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House. For years Capra toiled away as an apprentice prop man and film editor before finally making his own deals. In 1928 Capra signed with the struggling Columbia Pictures, for which he directed 25 features in a 10-year period. His contribution alone helped to lift the company from ruin. Capra’s last movie for Columbia was 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, after which he directed his first independent feature, Meet John Doe in 1941. But everyone knows the Hollywood optomist best for the holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, which earned him his seventh Academy Award nomination. The director took home four trophies over the course of his career.

Quotable: “Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this capital dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you wont just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color or creed. That’s what you’d see.” –James Stewart as Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).